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Western Press Review: Yeltsin Goes Fishing In Japan; Catches Bragging Rights

By Don Hill, Dora Slaba and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 20 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Like any other sports fishermen, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto are likely to return from their Kawano, Japan, seaside summit boasting that small successes were really big ones. The fishing trip metaphor captures the imagination of several Western commentators.

LONDON TIMES: Yeltsin catches two fish, Hashimoto none

In an analysis in The Times, London, Robert Whymant writes: "President Yeltsin of Russia caught two fish yesterday and the Japanese Prime Minister landed none, a fitting metaphor for a summit that netted Russia the promise of Japanese cash without any apparent concessions in a territorial dispute. The fishing trip came at the end of two days of talks at the seaside resort of Kawana that deepened the two leaders' personal relationship but left unanswered how the dispute over Russian-held (southern Kurile) islands claimed by Japan can be resolved."

The Times' writer says: "The Japanese side had hoped that the informal summit would advance talks to forge a peace treaty by tackling the territorial question. A treaty has been delayed for more than 50 years by Japan's demand that Russia must hand back four islands off Hokkaido captured by Soviet forces in the closing days of the war. The return of the islands, known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia, has always been a matter of honor for Japan."

Whymant writes: "Mr. Yeltsin, embroiled in a battle with his parliament over Sergei Kiriyenko, his candidate for prime minister, flew to Japan to fish for the Japanese assistance and investment he requires to support market reforms."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Both sides appear satisfied

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung editorializes today: "Both sides appeared satisfied with the talks in Kawana. On a scale from zero to ten, the meeting received eight points, said Yeltsin on his departure (yesterday)." The newspaper says: "At the end of the talks the heads of states went fishing. Yeltsin was the more successful; he caught two fish, while Hashimoto admitted on his return he had lost, as he only caught one."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Japan has switched tactics

"Antagonism between the two countries has been a central feature of the Asian political landscape for decades," Nicholas D. Kristoff wrote yesterday in a New York Times news analysis. He wrote: "They never signed a peace treaty after World War Two. Japan resisted economic cooperation with Russia in large part because it insisted on first recovering a group of islands that Russia seized in the closing days of the war. Over the last few years, however, Japan has switched tactics. It still wants the return of the islands -- which Japan calls its Northern Territories and Russia says are part of the Kurile Island chain. But Tokyo now seems prepared to discuss other issues and to improve ties in the hope that this will eventually lead to return of the islands."

THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: Talks provide brief respite from domestic problems

A Los Angeles Times news analysis by Kevin Sullivan, published today by the International Herald Tribune, puts it this way: "The leaders of Russia and Japan concluded a 24-hour seaside summit meeting (yesterday) with a little fishing, a little hugging, promises of better economic relations, and a new proposal for resolving an acrimonious 50-year-old territorial dispute."

Sullivan writes: "The talks provided a brief respite from potentially disastrous domestic political problems facing the two leaders, and each seemed to relish the break."

LE SOIR: Remember Yeltsin's bad temper

Commentator Pol Mathil wrote in Saturday's Le Soir, Brussels, about Yeltsin's overriding domestic issue. Mathil said: "Before the hour of truth comes in the third vote, we should remember Boris Yeltsin's bad temper. The dilemma is obvious: Neither Yeltsin nor the Duma, or the country for that matter, has any interest in an open crisis. But the dynamics of the Russian political game and of Yeltsin's behavior, have taken such an emotional turn that, as big as the risks are, everything could indeed go wrong. Yeltsin is so deeply involved that if he takes this vote as a personal humiliation (and it would be one) he could go as far as dissolving the Duma. Even if it is a big mistake."

Mathil wrote: "There still is one week left for discussions and possible bargaining. But we shouldn't forget that what is at stake in Russia is Yeltsin's power and succession. For better or for worse, he is convinced that his model of power, that one could call 'neo-tsarism', is the only vehicle suited to bring Russia into modern times and democracy. Is it a paradox? Of course. But in Russia, it's not the first one and certainly not the last."

LIBERATION: Russia's crisis not merely governmental

In Saturday's Liberation, Paris, Jacques Amalric commented that Yeltsin's predicament would be farcical if it weren't so serious. The writer said: "What would make one smile in an operetta is more tragic than comic in a country that remains the second nuclear power in the world and whose army is in disarray. In a country whose population never recovered -- morally and materially -- from the humiliating collapse of the USSR. In a country where not one day goes by without the social gap widening. In a country, finally, still looking for its role, its identity, and whose regime, under an already peeling democratic veneer, has more to do with the 19th century than with the modern Russia Western countries feel obliged to hail. It doesn't really matter if Kiriyenko will become prime minister next week or if the Duma deputies will be sent back home. Because Russia's crisis is not merely governmental."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Kiriyenko shouldn't be worried

Even if the crisis were governmental only, Kiriyenko has little, really, to worry about, commentator Miriam Neubert wrote Saturday in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. She wrote: "Indeed, it is not for him to be worried, for even if he is rejected for a third and final time by the deputies, he can still be premier. According to the constitution, President Boris Yeltsin can appoint him to the post -- providing he simultaneously dissolves the stubborn Duma and calls new parliamentary elections.

"Then it will be time for the Duma deputies to worry -- at the prospect of losing their seats a year and a half before elections would have been necessary. The power poker between executive and legislative is thus headed for a third, decisive round. Yeltsin is hardly inclined to help the opposition save face by offering it seats in the cabinet and hence a role in the government."